Tyler Johnson is having a career-year in Brooklyn. Johnson is shooting a career-best from three (42.4 percent) and from the field (56 percent) but that is not what Steve Nash admires the most from his 6’4” combo guard.
“The shooting is the cherry on top but the rest of the stuff is what we love about Tyler,” Nash said. “Just the competition, fight, and energy.”
Indeed. Outside of Johnson’s electric shooting and a rising offensive rating of 119.5 (career-best), the 6’4” guard compliments his offensive play with gritty defense. Johnson, who has a defensive rating of 109.3 and a net rating of 10.2 (career-best), supplies Brooklyn with high-energy defense off the bench - a trait the guard has carried throughout his career and one of the reasons he was Sean Marks’ first big free-agent target back in 2016 when the Nets general manager inked him to a four-year, $50 million offer sheet only to see it matched by the Miami Heat.
Nash previously viewed the 28-year-old as a shooter who can get hot and can provide a shooting spark off the bench. With 42 games under Brooklyn’s belt, the Nets head coach labeled Johnson as a winner and a player who will leave it all on the floor for the Nets every game.
“Tyler is a winner. That’s one of the reasons we wanted him to come in. He competes. He fights. He plays hard. He sticks his nose in there defensively and leaves it all on the floor,” Nash said. “We know he can shoot. I think more so we thought he was a guy that can get hot and is not afraid. He has been really consistent with it this year and that’s been outstanding. I’m proud of him.”
Johnson, who opened the season out of the rotation, playing in only seven of Brooklyn’s first 24 games, but stayed motivated. He worked with the “stay ready group,” and embodied the Nets’ ‘next man up’ mentality. When Kyrie Irving missed seven games due to a personal reasons and “right shoulder injury management,” Johnson took advantage of the opportunity. He worked his way into the rotation and established himself as a consistent contributor for the contending Nets.
“He started the season out of the rotation. We told all the guys that chances will come for sure. It’s great to see him play and fun watching him on the way he competes,” Nash said. “The force and energy he gives our team are great.”
Johnson’s consistent play has caught the attention of his star teammate as well. While Irving and Kevin Durant were watching from the bench, Johnson provided a must-needed punch off the bench in Brooklyn’s win over the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night - scoring 15 of the Nets’ 41 bench points along with four rebounds and two steals.
James Harden provided praise for Johnson’s key performance after the win. Harden spoke about the Nets possibly playing without Irving, who was dealing with a right sore groin, and Durant, who has been out since Feb. 13 with a lingering hamstring injury, He labeled the 6’4” guard as the player who was prepared and took advantage of the opportunity.
“But if we do, the guys have to be ready to step up. I think Tyler did a really good job throughout the course of the game,” Harden said. “Once again we preach every night is going to be somebody different and so, be ready and be prepared for the opportunity. Take advantage of it.”
Johnson, who has played in 22 games for the Nets, is averaging 5.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 15.0 minutes per game. He is also shooting 92 percent from the charity strike and averaging 0.3 turnovers per contest.
As the trade deadline approaches, Johnson does not need to be worried. The combo guard, who was dealt during the 2019 trade deadline, has a no-trade clause on his fully guaranteed vet minimum contract - which means he would need to grant Brooklyn permission to pull a trade if he was included.
Doesn’t seem to matter to Johnson. He’s doing well and his team is too.
“Gotta have some heart. No heart, it’s over for you. We’ve just got some guys who want to guard. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. You’re gonna let somebody bully you around, then you really have no business being on the court,” said Johnson after the Nets beat the Suns in Phoenix. “It doesn’t matter if they’re a little bit taller or a little bit bigger, then you know that you’re gonna have help and you’ve gotta know your rotations. At the end of the day, that really doesn’t matter.”
Well said by a guy known for his toughness.